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Agile Leadership – The purpose and benefits of coaching.

20 January 2022

Business Analysis

Last week, I put out a poll to ask whether leaders would consider agile coaching. The results of the poll were very interesting, but the conversation that was sparked from the comments got me thinking.

In summary the comments on the poll covered three topic areas as follows:
  1. Agile coaching is inconsistent as there are no clear standards associated with the title. Neither is the title consistently applied across the different agile certification and qualification bodies.
  2. Agile coaching can be at many levels – individual, team and executive, and requires a different focus. Someone with agile and coaching skills and expertise can coach at all levels, but it is recognised that further agile and business acumen is beneficial if you are coaching senior executives.
  3. Leaders can benefit from agile coaching to support their agile mindset development.

I see lots of polls in news feed and I am often disappointed that no further insights are offered as a follow up. So, with this in mind I have written up my own insights based on the comments and the poll results.

Why do leaders need coaching?

When adopting agile ways of working within an organisation teams need to think and behave in different ways. This is also true of leaders if those agile teams are to succeed. In many ways the changes that leaders need to make are even more profound and uncomfortable than those of their teams. The failure to recognise the significance of good agile leadership is key to any successful endeavour, but also the key reason why agile teams struggle or fail. For agile to succeed within an organisation the agile mindset needs to span the entire organisation and traverse hierarchies too.

Many leaders don’t see or recognise that adopting agile requires a shift in them too. For many, it means rejecting decades of practices, beliefs and behaviours that has helped them succeed in their careers and so don’t accept that changes in their mindset now will have any impact on the agility of their teams or their organisation.

What is an agile coach?

Coaching is the ability to help others grow and reach their potential. Coaching involves active listening, the ability to build trust and rapport and to ask powerful questions to generate insights that help people clarify their growth goals. So what is different about an agile coach? Agile coaching is a bit more specific in that the coaching bit employs the standard coaching techniques as mentioned above but it also brings mentoring and a bias for agile.

An agile coach understands agile mindset and has lived and breathed agile concepts, principles and methodology in their day to day life. The questions they ask and the suggestions they make come from an agile bias and helps those being coached consider things from an agile perspective. Agile coaches have achieved, or are on the path to achieve, mastery in their agile skills, experience and expertise and coupled with coaching skills bring this into the coaching sessions.

Why is agile coaching not just regular coaching? There are three areas of agile coaching as defined in the diagram from my latest book (Copyright ‘Consulting Model’, ‘Agile From First Principles’, Girvan & Girvan, BCS publishing 2022). The basic premise of this is that people won’t get to where they want to be without the content. The content in the ability to impart knowledge that they hadn’t come across before or new techniques. The agile coach brings this through their mastery and some can be through training. When you combine powerful questions, an agile bias through teaching and consultancy, overlaid with mentoring you bring something different to the table.


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Figure 1 – Copyright consulting model, Agile From First Principles, Girvan & Girvan, BCS Publishing 2022
The benefits of an agile coach

An agile coach should drive positive change by providing the time and space for leaders to think and talk through their concerns. The questions posed by an agile coach can help leaders avoid pitfalls and help the organisation move forward through revealing insights that they were previously unaware of. Coupled with the consultancy, teaching and mentoring provided, this can uncover new approaches and ways of working that were otherwise concealed. Agile coaching can provide confidence to the coachee in the decisions they are and provide a wider set of tools and materials than maybe they otherwise have. Additionally, the agile experience that the coach brings helps to provide stories that will help the coachee understand the benefits of thinking and behaving in a different and agile way.

Some of the benefits that agile leadership coaching can bring to organisations includes:

  • Improved flow and transparency of information across silos though focus on organisational value rather than functional areas.
  • Empowered employees through the recognition and need for intent based leadership
  • Decentralised decision making brought about through better delegation and empowerment
What should I look for in an agile coach?

Currently, there are no barriers to entry to calling oneself an Agile coach. It can be as simple as typing ‘agile coach’ on your linked profile. This means that the quality can be variable. Sadly, there are more poor quality coaches than high quality coaches and poor quality coaches can do more harm than good.

The news isn’t all bad, however, as there are some ways to identify good quality coaches.

Agile coaches should have extensive practical agile experience. This can be evidenced through certifications such as Advanced Scrum Master, Certified Scrum Professional (CSP-SM) with or other similar reputable organisations such as, Agile Alliance or  ICAgile. It is important that the qualification requires the candidate to evidences experience, as CSP-SM does, rather than just attendance of a course and an exam. Additionally, CSP-SM is a core path way to achieving professional coaching levels with ScrumAlliance and includes guidance and evidence of coaching in this qualification.

Agile coaches must also be qualified to coach, having achieved agile coaching qualifications such as Certified Scrum Professional (CSP-SM), Certified Team Coach (CTC) or Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC), through the, or Associate, Professional or Master Certified Coach ICF Credentials with the  These qualifications are not handed out lightly and require years of demonstrated experience in agile and or coaching technique to achieve . In fact there are only 41 Certified Enterprise Coaches (CEC) and 59 Certified Team Coaches CTC) in the UK (at time of writing). An agile coach of this calibre will ask the powerful coaching questions that enables individuals, teams and executive leaders to reach their own conclusions through bringing their deep agile experience and tools into the conversation.

I hoped this has helped address some of the comments and concerns raised in my initial poll and provided some useful insights and advice.

If you would like to find out more about the agile coaching CMC can offer leaders please feel free to get in contact with me.
By Lynda Girvan, Head of Business Analysis & Agility at CMC Partnership Consultancy Ltd

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